National 2 South
Taunton Titans 27, Birmingham & Solihull 17

FOUR first-half tries helped Taunton Titans overcome National 2 South strugglers Birmingham & Solihull at a bitterly cold Commsplus Stadium on Saturday.

It wasn't always pretty, but the result was the priority, and the five points gained from this sixth successive win take the Titans into second place in the table.

That was thanks to promotion rivals Canterbury and Henley Hawks both losing, away to Dings Crusaders and Tonbridge Juddians, respectively.

READ MORE: Taunton Titans v Birmingham & Solihull as it happened

Starting the day in fourth, Taunton welcomed Gary Kingdom, Aron Struminski and Ratu Vakalutukali back into their squad, and the latter played a key role as the hosts took the lead after just 31 seconds.

Vakalutukali broke into the Bees' half, Nick Mason was following up and he unselfishly set up Ollie Rice to cruise over.

The early try went unconverted, with a strong wind making kicking difficult for both teams.

Birmingham captain Jack Jolly twice went for goal after the hosts had conceded a penalty, but on both occasions the kick dropped short, and soon his team were further behind.

The Titans took a quick tap penalty, Jarrard Hayler made good ground and full-back Sam Brown angled his run perfectly to find the gap and add a second unconverted try.

Taunton looked likely to score every time they had ball in hand, and on 25 minutes they added a third try, as Lewis Webb was tackled just short but Rice was alert and dashed over for his second of the afternoon.

Some of the hosts' impetus seemed to disappear at this point, and some messy defensive work allowed the visitors a try of their own, Luke Smith pouncing as the Titans failed to clear the loose ball, to make the score 15-5.

But the pendulum swung back towards the home side soon after, as a steady passing move found Charlie Williams, who made a powerful run through a gap to score the bonus-point try.

It was fourth time lucky for Sam Brown with the conversion, making it 22-5, but Hayler and Williams suffered a clash of heads soon afterwards and both were taken off.

Another blow came just before half time, Harry O'Brien taking an interception and finding Matt Dight to go over in the corner, and with Jolly's conversion successful, it was 22-12 at the break.

The second half took a while to get going, and when it did it was the Bees who had the momentum, a rolling maul from a lineout setting up Matt Spink to go over and reduce the deficit to five points with 25 minutes left.

There were some nervy moments for the Titans after that try, but despite a period of concerted pressure from Birmingham, they could not force a fourth try.

Finally Taunton earned some possession in the visitors' half, and with less than two minutes to go they moved the ball right, Kingdom spread it to Struminski, and the Polish international winger showed speed and strength to cross for the decisive score.

That gave the hosts a 10-point cushion, and after resisting some late pressure from the away side, they were able to celebrate a hard-fought victory.

Taunton Titans: Sonny Haines, Chris Francis, Isaac Dalton, Cory Teague, Charlie Williams, Ratu Vakalutukali, Jarrard Hayler, Ben Oliphant-Thompson; Jacob Nash, Lewis Webb (c), Ollie Rice, Freddie Fraser, Nick Mason, Aron Struminski, Sam Brown.
Replacements: Alex Spurdle, Sam Williams, Dan Ogden, Andy Hamilton, Gary Kingdom.

The defeats for Canterbury and Henley mean that Taunton's win takes them into second, two points ahead of Canterbury and four up on Henley.

Next Saturday brings a huge match in the promotion chase, as Taunton travel to Canterbury (ko 3pm), knowing that a win would give them a great chance of holding onto the second promotion spot behind runaway leaders Rams.